It seems that this ‘record’ has gradually improved over the years or at least since 1970 when a pet cat named Andy owned by Florida Senator Ken Mayer fell from the 16th floor of an apartment building in Florida. Andy survived as most falling cats do but they often require veterinary care in order to survive. At the time and until 1996 when Dr Morris in his book ‘Cat World’ reported on it, Andy was the record holder.
A cursory glance at internet search results provides stories of far higher falls. On 22nd March 2012, the Daily Mail reports that Sugar fell out of a 19th floor apartment window. Sugar belonged to Brittany Kirk. Sugar survived the 200 feet fall from the Boston high rise. Apparently she walked away without a scratch. Although she landed on a small area of mulch (gardening material to prevent growth of weeds in flower beds). She lost some fur on impact. Immediately after the fall she jumped up and ran back into the apartment! She had got out of the window because Kirk had left in slightly ajar because of the hot weather.
Nicole Ritchie’s cat fell ten stories in 2011 and survived. There is a video uploaded by ANC News showing a cat falling 26 floors in New York:
There is an animated gif of a cat falling. The fall is long. At a guess something around 20 stories onto concrete. The cat runs off. We don’t know what was going on. Why was this cat climbing a rendered wall at this height? Was he/she injured? You can see it here.
Quora.com reports on what appears to be the highest of all falls but provides no details. The longest fall was 32 stories and the cat was “good to go in two days”. Apparently the 32 story fall was reported in the Journal of the America Veterinary Medical Association when reporting on a study of 132 cats falling an average of 5.5 stories with the highest being 32 stories.
What the cat falls on is relevant. Hard surfaces must increase the risk of injury. And there is an optimum height. Cats falling from lower heights can be injured more severely because the self-righting mechanism has less time to unfold. From greater heights the cat is fully settled into a righted and fanned out position to glide down. The cat reaches a terminal velocity which is a stable maximum speed of descent.
Cats falling from heights of 2 stories and more are classified as being participants in high-rise syndrome. The overall survival rate is around 90% after being seen by a veterinarian.
Cats like heights. Many cats live in high rise apartments. Therefore it is foreseeable that some cats will fall after ‘escaping’ the confines of the apartment. Domestic cats are not faultless in their athleticism. They make mistakes but it is unusual as cats are very sure-footed.
Domestic cats do not know the meaning of not having a head for heights. They just don’t see long falls as frightening. It does not enter their heads it seems to me. When falling they seem to accept things and behave logical and calmly in righting themselves and fanning out their legs to produce drag like a parachute. Cats surviving long falls provokes the thought that they have nine lives. The origin of that phrase is interesting.